Foreclosures spiked in August
Rising payments on adjustable-rate mortgages contribute to 53% jump in foreclosures.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- With real estate markets slowing and mortgage rates well above levels of recent years, times are getting tougher for homeowners - the number of homes entering into some stage of foreclosure is surging, according to a survey released Wednesday.
In August, 115,292 properties entered into foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac, an online marketplace for foreclosure sales. That was 24 percent above the level in July and 53 percent higher than a year earlier.
It was the second highest monthly foreclosure total of the year; in February, 117,151 properties entered foreclosure.
Some of the bellwether real estate market states are among the leading foreclosure markets. Florida, had more than 16,533 properties in foreclosure in August. That led all states and was 50 percent higher than in July and 62 percent higher than in August 2005.
California foreclosures are increasing at an even faster annual rate, up 160 percent since last year to 12,506. And the formerly red-hot Nevada market recorded a spike of 24 percent compared with July and a whopping 255 percent increase from August 2005.
Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac's vice president of marketing, says the rising foreclosure numbers are in part the result of rising monthly payments on adjustable-rate mortgages, which have a low introductory interest rate that heads higher after an initial period.
"Usually, foreclosures are a lagging [market] indicator," he says. "But we've never had a situation like this with adjustable-rate mortgages amounting to $400 billion to $500 billion coming up for adjustment over the rest of the year."
For a homeowner with a 5/1 ARM (an adjustable rate loan with an initial fixed rate for five years that then adjusts annually) that's now resetting, the adjustment could add at least two percentage points to the interest rate. That could send the payment on a $200,000 loan up from about $950 a month closer to $1,200.
These exotic mortgages, which have been issued by lenders at much higher numbers the past few years, default at a higher rate than do fixed-rate mortgages. And sub-prime loans, which are much more common than in the past, have a higher default rate as well.
But, Sharga says, "The real wild card is the nature of the loans themselves. Historically, ARMs were underwritten pretty conservatively. There has been a loosening of standards with lower credit worthiness and smaller down payments."
Homeowners are also in Dutch because of underlying economic conditions. Many of the worst hit markets, such as in the Midwest, are in areas hard hit by layoffs or other economic ills.
When housing markets were hot, homeowners could often avoid default through two ready made options, according to Sharga: They could sell to a ready market or they could use the increase through appreciation in their equity to refinance their homes. Increasingly, both those options are evaporating.
Contrary to what many consumers may believe, lenders are not anxious to foreclose on homes and put families out on the streets. Foreclosures tend to be money losers for lenders and are done mostly as a last resort.
Sharga says lenders are beginning to recognize that a problem is brewing and are taking steps to address it. They are much more amenable to a short sale, for example, in which they accept a low-ball, cash bid early in the default process that may not even cover their mortgage, in order to avoid a larger loss later. That can help homeowners by preserving their credit scores and easing their transitions into the rental market.
"Lenders say they're looking for ways to work with homeowners in trouble," reports Sharga. "So for homeowners looking at a default situation, the sooner they talk to their lender - and see what options are available - the better."
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